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Biggest-earning authors: J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, Stephen King

October 2, 2008 |  1:32 pm

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It seems distasteful for Forbes to announce the world's 10 best-paid authors (via) as our economy roils and boils. But it's tallied the take from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008, and it's sharing the numbers.

J.K. Rowling (left) is still, again, the No. 1 earner, by a wide margin: She made $300 million, whereas runner-up James Patterson (center) only brought in one-sixth of that -- $50 million. He begins a close run -- Stephen King (right) is No. 3 with $45 million, then Tom Clancy with $35 million and Danielle Steele with $30 million. There's a tie at  No. 6 -- John Grisham and Dean Koontz each made $25 million. Ken Follet made $20 million, Janet Evanovich made $17 million, and with $16 million, Nicholas Sparks finishes out the top 10.

The authors don't get to keep all that scratch. There is a cost to being in the writing business: Managers and accountants and assistants and publicists all must get paid. And with the stock market plunge, chances are some of these folks saw their portfolios go down with everyone else's.

But they still have enough to get a good coiffure and buy the knickknacks they want, like a cashmere sweater or a pied-à-terre in Paris. Maybe a boat.

According to a special report from the 2000 census, "writers and authors" have the second-most disparate income of all occupations -- actors' incomes, as you may have heard, are the most divergent. (The report is in PDF here) But a hard-up working actor will get to ply his or her craft for as little as a few hours during the year; their struggle is to have the chance to act. All authors, by contrast, can sit down and write. And to produce, they have to sit down and write an awful lot. Rowling, no matter how many hundreds of millions of dollars she makes, still has to do the work of writing -- and she shares that with every author out there, no matter how broke they are.

--Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credits: J. K. Rowling -- Sang Tan / Associated Press; James Patterson -- Hachette Book Group USA; Stephen King -- Kristie Bull / Associated Press / graylock.com

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